Thursday, January 21, 2010

Welcome to the Green Gray World

There's actually more color in this picture than there is in the set.

If you were to ask me for a two-sentence review of The Bridge Project's As You Like It at BAM, then I would tell you to prepare to hear the words "There is no reason on earth for a fucking water-boarding scene to be within five miles of this comedy." Which brilliantly sets up the second sentence: "But of course, we are not watching a comedy, and Sam Mendes is not about to let us forget it."

So what are we watching? A production in which scene changes are done to sad violin music and the mournful notes in the script have become the entire symphony. A lot of acting that feels slight instead of light. And a play in which the city and the country are about as different as two cubicles in the same dreary office. This is supposed to be a comedy about contrasting worlds, and while there's a valid point in answering a cheery cry of "Let's run away to the forest!" with the harsh reality of "Fine, but how we will live there?" the only contrast here is between "stark and cold" and "slightly less stark and a tad bit warmer." And yes, the word "desert" is spoken as much in the first two acts of As You Like It as it is in all of Lawrence of Arabia, but that does not mean you bring camels into Arden. (I exaggerate; there are no camels in this production, mostly because camels are not colorless.)

Jacques in Oklahoma.

Which is not to say that you can't infuse a Shakespearean comedy with languid melancholy; the Watteau-inspired Much Ado with Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack did it brilliantly, mostly by showing how foreign Benedick and Beatrice were to the general mood around them. The only foreigner in this production is Stephen Dillane's chipper, low-key (and occasionally inaudible) Jacques; and the fact that I can, without any irony at all, use the word "chipper" to describe a character the script keeps calling "melancholy" pretty much nails how low the Glum Bar has been set in this production.

As for the Fun Bar, the evening has its moments, but they are just that: moments -- like flashes of sunlight in a forest, they illuminate but do not warm. Because the production feels heavy and weightless at the same time, there's a flatness to everything, which makes the jokes stick out like muffins on a baking pan. As for the acting, the supporting characters generally fare better than the leads. This is that rare production of As You Like It in which Celia is more lively than Rosalinde, Phoebe feels more intriguing than Jacques, and Silvius gets as many laughs as Touchstone.

This is also that rare production in which, instead of the usual question everyone asks about the play ("What in the name of God does Rosalinde see in Orlando anyway?") you find yourself saying "What does Orlando see in this girl again?" Juliet Rylance, looking for all the world like Geneva Carr crossed with Ellen Degeneres, spends so much time dashing back and forth onstage that it's a comment on the way she's playing Rosalinde: she never really inhabits the part, she just keeps approaching and retreating, approaching and retreating. And Christian Carmago's Orlando has pretty much one look, one tone of voice, and one manner throughout. Can't wait to see his Ariel. (Note to director: if you are crazy enough to have Orlando kiss Rosalinde while she's pretending to be a guy, then the characters have to actually deal with the moment for like, y'know, a moment, okay?) (Better yet: don't have them kiss in the first place.)

It occurs to me as I'm writing this that there's a hint of Beckett to this production, like Mendes decided to direct Waiting For Rosalinde. But that's probably just me. For instance: I can't see a guy in a bowler hat without thinking of either Beckett, Magritte, or Lena Olin in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. They get all mixed up in my mind. Just like a bunch of things seemed to have gotten mixed up in Sam Mendes' mind. It's obvious that a certain amount of thought has been brought to the script, and a certain amount of thought to the interpretation, but they're neither compatible nor consistent. Unless I'm missing something, there's not one single prism that you can look through to see this As You Like It whole. Instead, you wind up looking at everything through a pair of blurry bifocals.

So no, can't say I liked it much, though it had its moments. Silly me. I went to BAM expecting to see a comedy about love. Word to the wise: don't make my mistake. Go to BAM expecting to see Measure for Measure, and I bet you walk out pleasantly surprised. Because this is not a comedy about love. It's not a comedy about anything. And Sam Mendes is not about to let you forget it. (And technically it's not a water-boarding either, it's just a guy shoving another guy's head into a bucket of water until he starts to drown, and then yanking his head out. And then doing it all over again. To which I can only say: in As You Like It? Really??? WTF, Sam?)

Forest? Forest?!? This isn't a "forest"!

Now that's a forest!


Horvendile said...

Can't wait to see what Prospero's desert island looks like.

Horvendile said...

Actually? Not that much different.